Most Crazy Mocha coffee shops haven’t reopened and some longtime employees were told they were fired. Why? | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Most Crazy Mocha coffee shops haven’t reopened and some longtime employees were told they were fired. Why?

click to enlarge A closed Crazy Mocha location in Downtown Pittsburgh - CP PHOTO: RYAN DETO
CP photo: Ryan Deto
A closed Crazy Mocha location in Downtown Pittsburgh
Unlike other coffee shop chains like Starbucks or Commonplace Coffee, the large Pittsburgh regional chain Crazy Mocha hasn’t been quick to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Out of the two dozen stores it operates in the region, only five are open, and most of those are just kiosks in hospitals. The only brick-and-mortar stores open are in Sewickley, which opened a full two weeks after Allegheny County moved into yellow phase, and the Crazy Mocha in the North Side, which opened five weeks ago.

But this isn’t from lack of apparent demand, at least according to posts on social media. The comment sections on Crazy Mocha’s Instagram account are filled with questions about when the stores in Oakland, Bloomfield, Brentwood, Squirrel Hill, and Downtown will reopen.

And this reluctance to open is even more perplexing to some of Crazy Mocha’s longtime employees. Several workers have requested detailed information about reopen plans and have been given little response from ownership. It has left them feeling like their jobs are not secure and wondering why the chain hasn’t reopened, given that many cafes have been running well for weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 18, a few days after Allegheny County moved into yellow phase and cafes were told they could partially reopen, a small group of Crazy Mocha employees sent a letter to ownership hoping for some answers and including requests like better communication between management and workers, Personal Protective Equipment supplies, and more transparency about wages. After not receiving a response from ownership after five days, those workers converted the letter into an online petition.

According to Emily Raden-Shore, who has worked for Crazy Mocha for nine years, only after the petition was posted online did Crazy Mocha owner Ed Wethli call the workers. Raden-Shore says that Wethli asked the workers to take down the petition and that he was writing responses to their requests. She says he also claimed the company was having some financial troubles.

Crazy Mocha did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

When Wethli did respond four days later, Raden-Shore says most of the group’s requests weren't addressed. A meeting the next day did produce an apology from Wethli about communication problems ownership had with workers, as well as promises to provide employees with some masks, the chance to return to their jobs, and a potential pay bump.

But none of that has materialized for most Crazy Mocha workers who are still waiting for stores to reopen. Another meeting two weeks later on June 12 created even more confusion and chaos for the group of about seven workers who have been asking ownership for more answers. The employees were removed from the company’s in-house communication system, were reminded they were no longer technically employees, were told that they were no longer entitled to updates and that ownership had done so thus far as a courtesy, and were not provided answers to questions about if they would return to work if or when stores reopen, according to Raden-Shore.

“We understand that we are laid off. We are not asking for our job back, but asking what is going to happen in the future,” says Raden-Shore. I have been at the company for nine years, Melissa [a coworker], 13 years. We have been there longer than the CEO has owned it.”

Raden-Shore says the whole incident “feels hurtful” since she has been with the company for so long. She says that many customers at the Bloomfield store where she works know her well and have been asking her why the store isn’t open and why she isn’t back at work. On walks past the store on Liberty Avenue, she has noticed that some items have been moved, causing her to anticipate a reopening.

But she also notes that ownership made additional complaints at the June meeting about the company’s financial struggles, which is perplexing to her because other businesses have maligned the closures as the reason for financial struggle. Crazy Mochas can open right now with little restrictions.

And Raden-Shore says Bloomfield is one of the top grossing stores. She says it doesn’t make sense why Crazy Mocha hasn’t opened her store, or many other stores.

Wethli told WTAE in April that Crazy Mocha anticipates opening at least eight neighborhood locations by mid-May. Back in April, Wethli wanted to raise $10,000 through sales of the company’s The Emergency Blend coffee beans to donate to The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Melissa Ciccocioppo, who has worked for Crazy Mocha for 13 years, says the company has also been deleting some comments workers have made on the company’s social media feed.

Raden-Shore says this is all of the indication she and the group of longtime Crazy Mocha employees has received from Wethli about reopening. She says of the few people that have returned to work at Crazy Mocha stores, it has mostly only been employees hired after Wethli purchased the chain in 2018. Raden-Shore believes that longtime employees like herself and the group could be actively passed over to return to work, and that management is hoping to only bring back newer employees since they make less money and aren’t guaranteed regular, modest wages like older workers.

“It has always been dysfunctional, but before it felt like a dysfunctional family,” says Ciccocioppo. “But now like a dysfunctional corporate monster eating us alive.”

Ciccocioppo says with the boosted unemployment expiring this week, it is becoming more stressful to know if she and others will be returning to work. And if this is the end for her long barista career at the coffee chain, she can hardly think of a more tragic ending. She is saddened by the fact of not even getting a chance to say goodbye to her regular customers.

“I am personally heavily invested in this store, I have been working there for 13 years,” says Ciccocioppo of the Bloomfield location. “That place is like my second home, that place is in my soul. This is all kind of confirming our fears, that they don’t know us and they don’t appreciate what the baristas bring to the company.”

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